DECEMBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

December has been a frantically busy month during which bird watching in our garden has often had to take second place to other activities – as wonderful as they were. I need not have worried though for one of the dubious benefits of the drought has been the attraction of a greater variety of birds to the garden. A Chin-spot Batis was a welcome newcomer that worked its way through the remaining ivy leaves in a more sheltered spot and it has been pleasing to see the return of Yellow-fronted Canaries. This one is inspecting the new feeder I received from my family in Norway.

The most wonderful sound to hear outside since 2018 was the bubbling calls of a Burchell’s Coucal. It paid the garden a very fleeting visit though. These camera-shy birds tend to take refuge in the bushes and the call of one was particularly exciting to hear for they are colloquially known as ‘rain birds’ – said to predict rain, which we need so desperately in the Eastern Cape. Perhaps its prediction was accurately short for we received a whole millimetre of rain not long afterwards! Although I hear their high-pitched calls daily and frequently see them working their way quickly through the remains of the dry Cape Honeysuckle hedge, I was pleased to photograph this Bar-throated Apalis on the ground near our wash line.

A pair of Red-necked Spurfowl have been making more frequent forays into our garden to seek out the crushed maize I scatter for the doves. This is not a good photograph of one for they are still very skittish and move off very quickly should I approach too close for their comfort. I am hoping they will become regular visitors.

The number of Black-eyed Bulbuls gathering around the fruit has increased from the usual three or four to up to seventeen individuals this month! This must be related to the paucity of naturally available food in these drought conditions. I love watching their antics and listening to their cheerful calls. Despite them being sociable birds, they can be fairly aggressive towards each other at times. I have observed, for example how a bird may spread its tail feathers and raise its crest when confronting another in order to protect its turn at an apple.

Male Pin-tailed Whydahs are generally aggressive towards other birds. This one is an exception for, as I have seen no females, I am guessing that my garden is not his territory to defend and he only comes here to feed. He is sporting a magnificent tail at the moment.

My December bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Burchell’s Coucal
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Chinspot Batis
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-billed Kite
Yellowfronted Canary

NOVEMBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The heat and drought continues unabated, yet I have been blessed with another bumper month of bird-watching in our garden. Delightful visitors are the Black-eyed Bulbuls (their new name, Dark-capped Bulbul, doesn’t trip off my tongue yet) that frequent both the nectar feeder and partake of the cut apples, although I have occasionally seen them hawking insects too. Here a pair of them are seeking some respite in the shade.

The Black-headed Oriole is always a welcome visitor to the nectar feeder. It swoops down now and then to feed on apples too.

This Bronze Mannikin is perched on a branch with its beak agape while it waits for a turn at the seed feeder – mostly dominated by Southern Masked Weavers and Streaky-headed Seedeaters. Although they are said to eat fruit and nectar, I have not observed them doing either in our garden.

The Common Fiscal is a regular visitor – quite happy to inspect my breakfast or what we are having to eat with our mid-morning tea – and is often the first to inspect what has been placed on the feeding tray. There are two: one without a ring and this one that has been ringed. Checking through my archived photographs, the latter has been seen in our garden over a couple of years and must be resident near here. Both have been collecting fruit and flying off to what I presume is a nest in a neighbouring garden.

As much as we often malign Common Starlings in this country, they can be amusing to watch. They tend to perch on the telephone wire above the feeding area to assess the availability of food then come down straight, akin to the landing of a helicopter, to guzzle whatever is there as quickly as possible. This one appears to be voicing its dissatisfaction that a pair of Redwinged Starlings beat it to the apple.

I have mentioned before how important it is to provide water for the birds to drink and bathe in during this hot and dry period. This Laughing Dove is making its way to one of the bird baths, with very little water in it – I filled it up after taking this photograph. The bird baths get filled twice, and sometimes even three times a day of late.

There is a saga attached to the Lesser-striped Swallows which I will relate in another post.

The daily sound of the squeaky ‘kweek, kweek, kweek’ notes emanating from the Red-throated Wryneck has been frustrating as this bird has been so difficult to locate! I used the binoculars and managed to get a better photograph of this warbler-like bird from an upstairs window yesterday – see how well it blends into the lichen-covered branches of the Tipuana tree.

I cannot resist showing you this picture of a Red-winged Starling about to tuck into an apple.

The Speckled Mousebirds are going to bag a post of their own soon. Meanwhile, this one is waiting for an opportunity to eat the apples on the tray below. Note how well it too blends into its surroundings.

My November bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Bronze Manikin
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Crowned Hornbill
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Village Weaver
Whiterumped Swift
Yellow-billed Kite

OCTOBER 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

Despite the heat and the drought – or perhaps because of it – October has been a marvellous month for watching birds in my garden. A number of birds have been seeking out the nectar feeder. These include weavers, Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongos as well as Cape White-eyes. The latter queue in the surrounding branches to take turns.

Sunbirds are regular visitors too, one of which is the very beautiful Greater Double-collared Sunbird. A pair of them have been flitting around the branches of the fig tree, where I suspect they may have a nest although I have not been able to see it.

I have mentioned before that this garden seems to host one pair of Streaky-headed Seedeaters that have become regular visitors to the seed feeders, although I have observed one of them pecking at an apple too. If one arrives first, it will call to the other to join it. By the end of the month they had brought their youngster along, so now there are three.

Olive Thrushes feature regularly on this blog for they are such fun to observe. They tend to be cautious about approaching the feeding table and one is often chased off by another before it even gets a chance to sample the fruit. Then it will either fly away or scurry off into the undergrowth only to reappear as soon as it thinks the coast is clear.

Spring (not that either the weather or the environment feels or looks like spring at the moment) heralds the arrival of cuckoos. Klaas’ Cuckoo has been around for a while, but we now hear the Red-chested Cuckoo and the Diederik Cuckoo as well. I was delighted to see the Lesser-striped Swallows arrive at last – later than usual – and am even more delighted that a pair of them are attempting to build their mud nest under the eaves outside our bathroom, although where they find the mud remains a mystery. The most exciting ‘new’ bird on my list this month is a first-timer ever: a Red-throated Wryneck. You will have to forgive the quality of the photograph as it is cropped from a telephoto shot taken from underneath the enormous Tipuana tree it was perched on. It has been around for about a week.

My October bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Black-backed Puffback
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Diederik Cuckoo
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Woodhoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Lesser-striped Swallow
Malachite Sunbird
Olive Bush Shrike
Olive Thrush
Paradise Flycatcher
Pied Crow
Pintailed Whydah
Red-chested Cuckoo
Redeyed Dove
Red-fronted Tinkerbird
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-throated Wryneck
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Thickbilled Weaver
Whiterumped Swift

JULY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The drought continues.

Laughing Doves never disappoint: they gather in the treetops to bask in the early morning sunshine; scour the ground for fallen seeds or cling onto the hanging feeders to eat the fine grass seed meant for the smaller birds; and fill the garden with their gentle cooing sound throughout the day. Our garden would be poorer without them.

It would probably be poorer without the Speckled Pigeons too, as messy as these home invaders are! The bright yellow Black-headed Orioles are a delight to see and hear every day. They tend to call to each other from the tree tops and swoop down in a flash of yellow to drink from the nectar feeder.

At this time of the year the Redwinged Starlings still fly around in flocks, making the most of the natural fruits and berries available in the neighbourhood.

A Cape Robin-chat regularly serenades me from the shrubbery while I am enjoying a cup of tea in the garden. There are fewer of the other songsters, the Olive Thrushes, about than usual. However, if I look around very carefully indeed, I can usually find one perched quietly in a tree watching me!

A Boubou has taken to helping itself to the offerings on Morrigan’s feeder from time to time.

Meanwhile, Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds have been flitting around the garden making happy noises as if to say that spring is in the air. Black-collared Barbets are also calling to each other, but have been rather shy about appearing in the open this month – as have the ‘resident’ / regular pair of Knysna Turacos. The Fork-tailed Drongos never fail to please with their acrobatics and it is always a pleasure to spot Cape White-eyes.

A small flock of Crowned Hornbills paid a visit this month. They are always most welcome.

My July bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Crow (Black)
Cape Robin-chat
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Crowned Hornbill
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you would like a larger view.

JUNE 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

A number of factors have affected my enjoyment of watching the birds in our garden this month. Several days have gone by with only doves and Hadedas to be seen; the seed feeders remained full and the cut apples untouched. Among these factors has been the smoke from the municipal rubbish dump which burned for days on end – any self-respecting bird would have flown further afield to breathe more easily! Colder weather combined with wind does not make ideal bird-watching conditions. Then there is a very large neighbourhood cat, which I surprised the other morning while it was sitting directly under one of the seed feeders!

Black-headed Orioles are always a delight to watch, whether they are calling to each other from the treetops or swooping down to the nectar feeder. It’s strong, flesh-coloured beak can be clearly seen in this image:

The Cape Robin-Chat is another favourite of mine. I often watch a pair of them emerge from the tangled undergrowth behind our swimming pool and then fly across the pool to look for insects within the safety of the Crassula ovata growing on the other side.

A Speckled Pigeon has been collecting sticks for its nest in the ceiling above my study. It perches on a branch, surveys the ground below, selects a stick, flies up through the hole in the eaves, and then repeats this action many times during the day.

A first-time visitor to my garden this month is a Black-shouldered Kite. I didn’t have a camera handy, so this is one photographed in the Addo Elephant National Park:

My June bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Blackshouldered Kite
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Batis
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Wood-hoopoe
Hadeda Ibis
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Sacred Ibis
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Village Weaver

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.

MAY 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

I cannot adequately convey how wonderful it is to hear the sounds of the Cape Turtle Dove in our garden at different times of the day. They used to be regular visitors to the feeders until elbowed out by the sheer number of Laughing Doves and Speckled Pigeons that wolf up the grain within twenty minutes of it being scattered outside. So, I hear the Cape Turtle Doves calling from the Erythrina trees in the back garden and see them pecking for food in the kitchen beds more often than they come to the front to see what the masses have left. Cape Turtle doves remind me of my childhood in the Lowveld and our visits to the Kruger National Park as well as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, where this photograph was taken.

My favourite visitors are the Cape Robins that are among the first birds to greet the dawn and which come to peck at the fruit and other titbits when the garden is quiet and most of the other birds have left to seek food elsewhere.

A pair of Greyheaded Sparrows also prefer to visit the feeders after the doves and weavers have left. Some of the weavers are beginning to sport their winter tweeds, yet there are still many males looking as though they are ready to find a mate. A few males have been seen carrying strips of grass to tie onto thin branches – perhaps we need a really cold spell of weather to make them realise that there is still the winter to get through!

Of some concern is that the population of Speckled Pigeons nesting in our roof has increased to the point that they may have to be moved on and we will have to reseal the eaves. They are lovely birds to look at, however the mess they make is awful – our front steps and some of the outside walls are covered with their faeces, which cannot be a healthy situation in the long run.

Redwinged Starlings have been gathering in large flocks over the past few weeks. They fly around in flocks of between fifty and a hundred, sometimes breaking off to fly in different directions and meeting up again. They often settle in the Natal Fig, only to be frightened by loud noises from passing vehicles and a cloud of black rises up noisily to whirl about again: their reddish wings look beautiful against the light.

So do the bright red wings of the Knysna Turaco. How fortunate I was yesterday morning to watch a pair of them flitting around in the trees near to where I was sitting and then to drink from the bird bath situated only a few metres away from me!

A really interesting sight was an African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene) flying low over the garden before perching in the Natal Fig. It wasn’t there long before I saw it take off with a single Fork-tailed Drongo in hot pursuit. The Drongo chased it right across the garden and back before the hawk changed direction to fly further afield. I am impressed with the feistiness of the Drongo!

I have already highlighted my photographs of the Green Wood-hoopoes that visited our garden last weekend, so will end with a photograph of an Amethyst Sunbird that posed for me briefly, albeit in the shade:

My May bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Amethyst Sunbird
Barthroated Apalis
Blackcollared Barbet
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Oriole
Boubou
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin (Cape Robin-chat)
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape Weaver
Cape White-eye
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Fiscal
Common Starling
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Green Wood-hoopoe
Greyheaded Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’ Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redeyed Dove
Redfronted Tinkerbird
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Sombre Bulbul
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver

APRIL 2019 GARDEN BIRDS

The lateness of this entry is indicative of how busy April was. The paucity of birds on my list is partly due to the lack of opportunity to relax and watch them visit my garden and partly because for several days near the beginning of the month it seemed they had decided to abandon my patch of paradise for one somewhere else. It was disconcerting to find the feeders untouched morning after morning. I can usually rely on the resident Speckled Pigeons as well as the regular contingent of Laughing Doves and the odd Cape Turtle Dove to arrive during the course of the day to gobble up the coarsely crushed maize I scatter on the ground for them. Not this time.

Speckled Pigeon

On some mornings they would gather in the treetops only to inexplicably fly off in a flurry. It was a while before I realised that a Eurasian Hobby had taken up residence!

This was the last month during which we saw White-rumped Swifts as they departed for northern climes earlier in the month. Instead, for a few mornings in a row I was delighted to see a small group of Red-necked Spurfowl exploring my garden.

Rednecked Spurfowl

On the subject of red: Red-eyed Doves and Red-winged Starlings have settled into the fig tree in fairly large flocks this month. A lovely surprise visitor at the nectar feeder was a Collared Sunbird. The other was a pair of African Paradise Flycatchers.

African Paradise Flycatcher

My April bird list is:

African Green Pigeon
African Paradise Flycatcher
Amethyst Sunbird
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-collared Barbet
Black-eyed Bulbul
Black-headed Oriole
Bronze Manikin
Cape Robin
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Cattle Egret
Collared Sunbird
Common Starling
Eurasian Hobby
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey-headed Sparrow
Hadeda Ibis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Knysna Turaco
Laughing Dove
Olive Thrush
Pied Crow
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Red-eyed Dove
Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-winged Starling
Southern Boubou
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Streakyheaded Seedeater
Village Weaver
White-rumped Swift